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Baja 500 racer breaks down but wins in the end

Driver gets stolen Baja bug returned with help from folks in Mexico.

SAN DIEGO — An American racer who competed in the Baja 500 has a story to tell. 

Mike Steel didn’t win the race – his Class 11, Baja bug broke down – but he won in the end.

Class 11 Volkswagen bugs are one of the most brutal vehicles to run in the series of Baja desert races because they are required to be mostly stock.

Last week’s Baja 500 was the first time Steel, and his team called Idiot Racing, had participated in a Baja 500 race.

Steel only made it about 50 miles before he broke down around sunset.

“We lost a front shock. We blew a ball joint on the driver’s side top,” said Steel.

Steel and his co-driver headed back to Ensenada to grab a trailer to tow the race car. When they returned, the Baja bug was nowhere to be found.

“It was stolen. Flat towed in some direction into the back parts of Baja,” said Steel.

That's when the social media campaign began.

Steel’s wife and crewmates posted on Facebook and Instagram. Soon, almost everyone in Baja was looking for the missing bug belonging to Idiot Racing.

“My guess is close to a million people had seen it. From everyone sharing it, the entire race community was into it. The entire Mexican community was into it,” said Steel.

It didn't take long for a man to spot the car in a field near Héroes de la Independencia, about 55 miles south of Ensenada.

“He had to go to the store and, incidentally, drove past my car along the way.   As he was waiting in the parking lot at the store, he pulled up Facebook and saw a post,” said Steel.

The crew drove back down to the location and when they arrived, they found police officers guarding the Volkswagen.

“Two miles off the road, back parts of nowhere, just thrown into a ditch. Then, they helped me put the wheels back on. These police officers were working the jacks, digging holes, lifting up the car,” said Steel.

The Tampa, Florida, resident did not finish the Baja 500, but 50 miles of racing taught him a valuable lesson.

“I have met a thousand amazing people, some of the best persons I have ever met in my life.  And two bad ones. That is a margin you will not find anywhere in the States,” he said.

Steel said the thieves took lights, tires, and the front shocks. One of the front shocks was blown anyway.

He plans to be ready to race in November in the Baja 1000.

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